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Dissecting Rime’s Influences and Style with Its Creative Director

Marcus Stewart

Rime 1.jpg

Rime has been a long time coming. Developer Tequila Works began work on the project nearly four years ago. Originally slated as a PlayStation 4 exclusive, the game is now coming to multiple platforms. Rime centers around a young boy who, after getting shipwrecked during a storm, awakens on a mysterious, uninhabited island. A giant tower at the center of the island beckons the boy. With the help and guidance of a small fox and equipped with a strange, magical voice, the boy must reach the tower and uncover the island’s secrets.

At this year’s PAX South, I sat down with Tequila Works Creative Director Raul Rubio and picked his brain about Rime’s development. During our talk, I uncovered several intriguing, lesser known facts about the highly-anticipated puzzle-platformer. 

Zelda and Ico Were Not Direct Influences

 “Ico meets Wind Waker” has been one of Rime’s go-to descriptors since the game debuted. Though an understandable comparison, Link’s seafaring adventure had zero impact on Rime’s conception. “I'm disappointed to say no, we didn't look into the Wind Waker.” Rubio confirmed. Tequila Works drew inspiration elsewhere, including films such as the animated works of Studio Ghibli. Raul stated one of the team’s main starting points was Journey. “Not the gameplay of Journey–the experience of Journey. In the sense that in Journey, the important thing was the journey.”

Another, more surprising, influence has been the Jak & Daxter series. “In Jak & Daxter 2, you have this combination of platforming, open-world exploration, and, more importantly, you have this relationship between Jak and Daxter.” Rubio explained. “So in this game you have a relationship with the fox and he's your companion, your guide.”

 The Witness Connection

While discussing Rime’s influences, I remarked about how Rime’s color palette and island setting reminded me more of The Witness than of Wind Waker. To my surprise, Raul revealed a relationship between the development of Rime and The Witness dating back to the 2013 Game Developer’s Conference. Both games had presentations at the event centered on their respective art styles:

“And the thing is we both attended the other's talks because we were curious, and they found the same challenges we found, sometimes [similar] solutions, but other times we took totally different paths because we have different goals.” Rubio recalled. “And I remember that Jonathan Blow, they asked him literally this:  ‘Oh have you seen Rime? Did they take inspirations from The Witness?’ I believe he said ‘Well, you should ask them.’ So now we can say, no, we didn't take inspiration [from] The Witness.”

Raul said that until just a couple of months ago, he and his team hadn’t played The Witness. The reason? An employee rule to not play any other puzzle games during Rime’s development. Raul stated this was done to prevent Rime’s puzzle design from becoming “contaminated” by existing ideas and trends. Tequila Works could follow their unique vision rather than fall into the creative trap of only catering to player expectations. 

Legit Animation Chops

One of Rime’s smaller but impressive elements is the boy’s animations. Subtle mannerisms and a satisfying sense of weight when jumping and climbing made me assume motion-capture was responsible. Raul revealed the boy was entirely hand-animated by a three-person team led by veteran animator Sandra Christensen. Prior to Rime, Christensen’s animation credits include LucasArts titles including the Star Wars: Force Unleashed games and Monkey Island, as well as other titles such as Psychonauts. She also had a tenure at Pixar, having worked on A Bug’s Life.  

Rime 2 .jpg

A Blend of Cultural and Artistic Influences

Creating a game that meshes aspects of different cultures is important to Tequila Works. The small team consists of a melting pot of nationalities, religious backgrounds, and artistic tastes. Rime’s aesthetic blends the individual artistic tastes and influences of the team members into a cohesive package. Raul explained, “Our art director was obsessed with The Master of Light, who is a 20th century Spanish painter. For other people it was Giorgio de Chirico who is the Italian architectural surrealist artist who inspired Team Ico. For other people, it was more like the surrealism of Dali and the negative space that he created. So in the end everything is mixed together.”

The architecture and color palette of the Mediterranean coast heavily influenced Rime’s presentation. “It's like going on holiday to Spain or Greece” said Rubio. While such sights are relatively common for the Madrid-based studio, Raul revealed that he hopes Rime will make what seems relatively ordinary to him and the team extraordinary to the rest of the world.

Childhood Experiences Drive Everything

Rime stars an adolescent boy, and Tequila Works is committed to capturing the whimsy that comes from experiencing life from the perspective of a child. Raul stated that one thing every person has in common is that we were all kids at one point. “So the key to understand Rime is trying to see the world with the eyes of a kid.” Rubio explained. “And you are a child again, you can do things that you did very naturally when you were a child that you forgot when you became an adult.” Raul said he believes that one of those forgotten traits is the ability to be amazed by your surroundings without overanalyzing them the way an adult likely would. Capturing that same sense of wonder when players explore the remnants of the island’s ancient civilization has been one of the team’s key goals.

To help realize that vision, Tequila Works studied videos of children playing in parks as a reference for how kids boldly attempt new challenges (especially when adults aren’t watching). Raul elaborated “You try to climb a tree now [you think], ‘Well if I try, I'm going to fall and [I’m] probably going to harm my hip, etc.’ But when you're a kid, you were not aware of the dangers of the world, right? Climbing a tree was something fun, not dangerous. That's the kind of inspiration for us.” Nearly every visible area in Rime can be reached by platforming, so Raul said he hopes that players channel that same child-like boldness when romping around the island.  

Rime’s controls and animation has been influenced by the protagonist’s young age as well. Raul explained that the balance of making the boy feel “fragile, but not literally helpless” was a balance the animation team was challenged to pull off. Every action needed to feel the way an 8-year old would, which Raul described as being “simple and complicated at the same time."

I took Rime for a spin in a hands-on session and came away itching to play more. The puzzles I encountered, which involved using the boy’s voice to activate statues, were enjoyable and fairly inventive. Tequila Works promised increasingly diverse and complex conundrums throughout the experience. Platforming felt great and offers an enjoyable physical challenge on top of the mental aspect. Most of all, Rime’s ambient soundtrack and calm atmosphere make it a genuinely relaxing journey. By the time I finished, I wanted nothing more than to melt away and continue knocking out puzzles at my leisure. If the full experience continues to evolve in exciting ways, Rime has the potential to be one of the year’s premier titles.

Rime launches this May for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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